Study shows connection between soccer 'headers' and brain injuries

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 6:40 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 1 at 9:50 PM

FRISCO - A new study links a common soccer move to brain injury.

The Radiological Society of North America says heading the soccer ball, even a few times a day, can cause serious problems. That has youth soccer organizations across the country taking a closer look, including one based in Frisco.

Heading is when a player hits a moving soccer ball with his or her head. The study examined the brains of 32 amateur soccer players who frequently headed a ball. Those who exceeded 1,000 headers a year showed "significant injury," similar to brain injuries seen in patients with concussions.

"But now we're wondering if unlike concussions, it's not just having one injury, but maybe over time, a bunch of small forces adding up and causing damage," said Dr. Shane Miller, a sports medicine pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center.

Jill Wiser is a soccer mom and player. Her daughters play in youth leagues. Even with the results of the study, she feels it's still safe.

“It's not ever really been a concern of mine," Wiser said.

U.S. Youth Soccer is the Frisco-based parent organization of youth soccer leagues across the country. Its players range in age from five to 19. Executive Director Jim Cosgrove says while the study merits a closer look at headers and head injuries, his organization doesn't even teach headers to kids under 10.

"We just don't feel that they're ready physically or even in some respects, psychologically, to have objects thrown or placed near their heads," Cosgrove said.

Dr. Miller said not allowing the youngest soccer players to do headers makes good sense.

“They may not have the hand-to-eye coordination, as well as the strength of their head, their neck and their trunk, to coordinate their movement," Miller said.

Protective head gear is available to reduce the impact of fast-flying soccer balls. But U.S. Youth Soccer's leader said there's no solid evidence to prove it reduces the risk of injury.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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